Committee review of stem-cell fraud finds editors followed all rules

In handling fraudulent stem-cell research articles, journal editors went above and beyond existing procedures to try and verify the findings, but in today's competitive publishing environment, more stringent, less trusting safeguards are now essential, an independent committee has concluded.

Although editors at the journal Science "made a serious effort substantially greater than that for most papers" to scrutinize research submitted by Woo Suk Hwang, the committee found, "the cachet of publishing in Science can be an incentive not to follow the rules."

The journal's current procedures, based on an assumption of trust in the basic integrity of the vast majority of researchers, must be revised to acknowledge the risk of misleading, distorted, or fraudulent findings, the committee concluded.

The six-person committee including leading stem-cell researchers, three members of Science's Senior Editorial Board, and an editor from Nature evaluated the handling of two research articles by Hwang and colleagues:

  • "Evidence of a Pluripotent Human Embryonic Stem Cell Line Derived from a Cloned Blastocyst" (12 February 2004, Science Express; 12 March 2004, Science); and

  • "Patient-Specific Embryonic Stem Cells Derived from Human SCNT Blastocysts" (19 May 2005, Science Express; 17 June 2005, Science).

After examining the original submissions, reviews, revisions, comments, editors' notes, and additional information related to both fraudulent papers, the committee proposed the development of a procedure for identifying "high-risk" papers. Research in the high-risk category might include, for example, counter-intuitive findings, and research likely to generate intense media or political interest. High-risk submissions should then be subjected to an additional level of scrutiny, such as more comprehensive access to primary data, the committee said.'"/>

Contact: Ginger Pinholster
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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